Thursday, October 17, 2013

Alternate nostril breathing

Yogis believe that each nostril is connected to a Nadi, which in Sanskrit literally translates to the word river, or flow. These channels are not nerves as we may imagine them in a gross sense, but far more subtle conduits of pranic energy that intersect at the chakras which lie along the length of the spine. Each nostril corresponds to a dominant activity that takes place in the opposite hemisphere of the brain.

Left Nostril : Ida Nadi, Left side of the body, Right Brain dominance, the feminine and creative principle.

The breath that is drawn in through the left nostril is known as Ida, the lunar channel.  It runs energetically down the left side of the spinal cord, and impacts the right hemisphere of the brain.  It is symbolically represented by the moon, and by the feminine aspect of energy known as Shakti.  Left nostril dominant breathing activates the Parasympathetic nervous system, the state that you enter during a great relaxing savasana or restorative portion of your yoga practice, or any activates where you find yourself in an effortless state of creative flow.

Right Nostril: Pingala Nadi, Right side of the body, Left Brain dominance, the masculine and analytical principle.

The right nostril breath is known as Pingala, and is the solar channel.  Not surprisingly this breath is heating in nature, and is associated with masculine energy through the archetype of Shiva.  When we draw breath in the through the right nostril, or more accurately when the breath is dominant through this channel it activates our left hemisphere of our brain.  This is the part of our brain which is associated with our Sympathetic Nervous System  – that elevated state of stress, or the ‘fight or flight response’ – a throwback from our primitive ancestors as a way of keeping us alive, and out of immediate danger.  The left hemisphere of the brain is more analytical in nature.

As you can well imagine, we have an incredible opportunity to develop an awareness of this in our yoga practice.  One of the most simple ways to start to become accustomed to this is to close one nostril, and check to see which one is dominant at varying times of the day.  When we are involved in activities such as art, dancing, and relaxation, it is almost certain that our left nostril is drawing in more oxygen than our right, thus activating our right hemisphere of our brain.  When we are crunching numbers, making strategic business decisions, or in times of elevated stress, our right nostrils will be dominant, thus activating our left hemisphere of our brains.  The yogis observed that the dominance of each nostril fluctuates often during the day according to the activities that we are undertaking.  Too much prana in the right nostril, may well be responsible for a noticeable decline in your creativity, and too much prana in the left nostril, may be the cause of a lack of concentration for more analytical tasks.

The ancient Indian yogis believe many diseases are connected to disturbed nasal breathing. A simple and effective technique for balancing the breath is through alternate nostril breathing.

Our noses are clever and directly link to the brain. Nadhi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing works to balance the inhale and exhale and importantly to balance the brain which allows us to access the nervous system. 

As well as using this technique to create balance, the opposite can be applied for certain situations.  Single nostril breathing can be used to activate one side of the brain. Exam preparation and high pressure environments require the left brain, encouraged by the right nostril and creative endeavours require the right brain,

Alternate nostril breathing:

  • Balances right and left brain hemispheres which balances creativity with logic, introversion with extroversion, masculine with feminine
  • Purifies blood of toxins and carbon dioxide
  • Induces tranquility, clarity of thought and concentration
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and headaches
  • Alleviates headaches and fatigue
  • Restores equilibrium

Those with blocked nostrils, colds and flu are advised to wait until the sinuses have cleared. Be mindful of any injury/tightness to the left shoulder, you may prefer to use the right hand. 

Alternative Nostril Breathing creates a relaxed, harmonious feeling, as it balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Practice before bed or when tense.

Breath: Sit in Easy Pose. Your left hand is in Gyan Mudra on your left knee.
Close your eyes and focus at your 3rd Eye. Breathe relaxed, deep, and full, as you practice the following sequence, for 3-5 minutes.

Inhale through the left nostril - Close your right nostril with your right thumb
Exhale through your right nostril - Close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger
Inhale through your right nostril - Close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger
Exhale through your left nostril - Close your right nostril with your thumb

“When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.

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